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Saturday, May 18, 2013

The 15-Minute Workday as Good Strategy

I've been reading yet another thread about The 15-Minute Workday. There are three canonical examples of The 15-Minute Workday:
  1. Going Nova: Blowing every spell you have in a single encounter, then demanding that the party rest.
  2. Camping: Running low on resources and deciding to rest for eight hours.
  3. Short Expeditions: Returning to town to restock after just a couple hours of exploration.
Thing is, in discussions about The 15-Minute Workday between old school and new school players, the latter think of #3 as a problem, but the old schoolers don't. You just don't see going nova or camping as viable strategies in a dungeon crawl being run along old school principles, even if it's a common enough problem in new school play. In contrast, returning to home base frequently is seen as normal behavior, so old school people don't get why The 15-Minute Workday is a big issue.

I've never seen anyone "go nova". I've only seen one instance of camping. Ran a friend through a Fantasy Trip dungeon on a solo adventure and a troll knocked him down to 1 hit right as he fried the troll... so when he woke up, he was terrified to even try leaving the dungeon, so he spiked a door shut and ate crispy troll for a couple days. (Fortunately, no significant wandering monsters.) Short trips to the dungeon, though? Extremely common, and not a problem. Seems like a reasonable strategy.

Let me illustrate using an example that doesn't involve magic. A low-level adventuring party approaches a tower with no visible doors. They find stairs going down 200 feet. Negotiating the underworld mage, they come to a point that they believe is directly below the tower... and above them is a shaft extending farther than their light source can reveal.

Someone gets a bright idea: maybe there's a ledge or something in the shaft that we can hook something on? They take a rope and grapnel, tie it to an arrow, and fire straight up. Wonder of wonders, it does seem to hook on something... far, far above. 50 feet of rope is too short, though, and they can see the tip of the rope dangling well above their reach. If they had tied two or maybe three ropes together, the plan might have worked.

Do they return to town to get more rope? Or does that count as 15-Minute Workday behavior?


  1. Funny: even before I got to you saying that Old Schoolers are generally OK with Short Expeditions, I was thinking that my players really didn't have a choice regarding whether they would only spend a few hours in the dungeon at all. Back when I was running games we had 4-hour sessions where they would head straight to the dungeon at the beginning of the session and would leave at the end of the session for fear of what would happen to them if they stayed (Jeff Rients' Dungeons and Dawn Patrol table, to be exact). In my attempts to keep time, I noticed that the PCs would actually spend less in-game time in the dungeon than we would spend real time playing. My players would have hence been taking big risks at best and suicidal at worst to have done anything other than "Short Expeditions."

  2. I think the usual in-game problem with the 15-minute workday is that if there are any intelligent inhabitants of the dungeon, the party has tipped their hand, and the inhabitants will be ready for them when they return...

    Not saying anything about whether it's good from a meta-game perspective or not, but it's not always a very good strategy.

  3. My 2 cents, having played and enjoyed "new school" and "old school."

    For newer iterations of the game and some newer players, the dungeon (or perilous location or whatever) is the cool place you trudge off to in order to be heroic. Oftentimes it encapsulates a number of plot points in a storyline. When players yo-yo between dungeon and town it makes play feel unheroic and makes story pacing difficult. I think both of these concerns are fairly alien to fans of old school play, which is notably picaresque.

    Also, a lot of the newer iterations/newer players value balance and particularly encounter balance in a way that is entirely off the radar for old school gamers. So: do you balance assuming a 15-minute workday or do you balance assuming they've powered through from the last encounter?